gramMAGICal structures #3

Songs are meant to be sung for others to enjoy, books are meant to be read for others to be absorbed by, plays are meant to be performed for others willingly to suspend their disbelief as they watch.  In the same way, magic has a purpose too.  Although it’s fun to practise it, just as learning a song is great if you love singing, and the mere process of writing can be a joyful, liberating experience, magic is only half of what it’s intended to be if it’s never performed for other people.  (A bit like spending 5 years in an MFL class but never communicating genuinely or meaningfully through the language with other people, native or otherwise).

An ambition fulfilled – on the same bill as Paul Daniels at The Magic Circle, June 2010

So if we accept the value of learning magic tricks through the foreign language because of the quality of engagement with the language in the process, how do we go about providing for our classes the opportunity to perform the tricks they learn in an equally meaningful way, which provides something of a product?  In this post, I’m going to look at the logistics for running a language-intensive experience for more than one class at a time.  Many schools have a morning or a whole day off-timetable for one year group to engage in a subject-specific event.  In languages, this might be for the European Day of Languages in September or later in the year as a Challenge Day-type event.  Running a Magic Day in modern foreign languages is an excellent way to make the most of the opportunities this sort of day provides.  Pupils grow in their communicative competence and their self-confidence, and it doesn’t need to cost a lot of money from a cash-strapped budget to run it.  And once the format of the day is in place, you can run it year after year with successive year groups.

The Logistics

Let’s start by looking at how to run this with just two classes studying the same language that are on at the same time of day.  In fact, if you don’t have a languages day as such, you can do this within normal lesson time over a couple of lessons.

Class A learns a card trick while Class B next door is learning a coin trick, both classes following the sequence for demonstration, explanation and learning the trick that I outlined in gramMAGICal structures #2.  When they get to the stage where they have all learned their trick, practised it (both how to do it and how to present it in the foreign language), and they are all ready to go, each class is divided in half.  (Note to magicians, divided in half, not sawn in half.  That’s a different trick).

Half of Class A goes next door to Class B’s room, and half of Class B goes into Class A’s room.  As long as one of the groups goes out and lines up on the corridor before the other group moves rooms, there shouldn’t be any crushing problems in the doorways.  (Remember I said in gramMAGICal structures #1 that a lot of this came from trial and rather a lot of error?  Well, trying to move pupils between two classes without thinking it through properly first was one of my early errors!).  It’s easier if, when dividing the groups in half, you number round the room: 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, etc.  All the 1s go next door, all the 2s stay where they are.  Then when half of next door’s class comes in, they can just sit in the empty chairs and everyone has a partner.

They perform their tricks to each other and say how amazed they are!  Time-wise, it’s a bit like baking a cake: it can take ages to get it all ready and cooked, but then it’s eaten in a matter of minutes!  That’s why it’s important to get as much out of the process as possible and not to rush it.

Before everyone goes back to the room they came from, they learn another trick.  Those in Classroom A (half of Class A, half of Class B), learn a trick with a pen, those in Classroom B (half of Class B, half of Class A), learn a trick with a tissue (for example).

Again, when they are ready to perform it, the pupils who moved rooms earlier go back to their normal rooms, so the groups are back to how they were at the start.  Class A is now made up of those who learned a pen trick and those who learned a tissue trick, and so is Class B.  They can now perform this second trick to their partners.

So in total 4 tricks have been taught and everyone knows 2 of them, but not everybody knows the same 2 tricks.  If this process has been mirrored by two other classes, Class C and Class D, half of Class A can now swap with half of Class C and half of Class B can swap with half of Class D, to perform their two tricks to each other and to learn a third before returning to their classrooms to show their partner the third trick they have learned.

At first reading, this may all seem rather complicated!  It’s worth making the effort to run the logistics along these lines, though, in order to have the genuine opportunity to perform.  You don’t have to have everyone in the year group learning the same language for this to work.  You can run the day within language groups, so that the French groups swap with each other, the Spanish groups swap with each other and the German groups do the same.  You can, if you want, set some context to the day by bringing in a professional magician to perform a short show to everyone at the beginning and/or the end of the day.  It does increase the cost of the day, of course, and it would probably have to be in English, but it can add something very special.  If you want to do this but have no idea who to contact, drop me a line and let me know whereabouts in the UK your school is and I may be able to recommend someone not far from you.

I promised a second trick you could use – this is one really for more able groups or KS4 classes, mainly because the instructions are a little more complex.  As in the last trick I explained, you’ll need to put them in the target language yourself, based on the level of the class you have.

Click here for The Vanishing Coin

Here’s another clip I’m sure you’ll enjoy, this time from Pathé and filmed in 1964!  You’ll see Ali Bongo, the magician in whose memory I gave my presentation at the Language Show in London last month, and also Alan Shaxon, another magician who was one of my childhood heroes and who immediately preceded Ali as President of The Magic Circle.  Sadly, Alan Shaxon passed away just a week ago.  An outstanding magician, he is respected all over the world amongst magicians.  Alan didn’t always perform to music as he did in this clip, and he learned to present his ‘patter act’ in German.  Enjoy!  Click here

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gramMAGICal structures! #2

Click here for full details of The Target Language Classroom, a 4-day intensive training course in teaching through the medium of the target language designed exclusively for teachers of Spanish based in UK secondary schools.

As in so much of teaching, the battle is won or lost in the planning.  This is especially the case if we want to include magic amongst our tools for teaching grammar inductively.   It doesn’t have to be complicated, but the whole thing can easily fall pretty flat if it’s not thought through properly, and it can feel like a lot of work for nothing if you run something like this with a class and then the language doesn’t quite ‘take’.  I’ve had both experiences at various times and in this post, I’m going to share the teaching sequence I’ve now used for a few years based on quite a lot of trial and even more error!  The sequence works well whether you are doing a one-off lesson or a whole morning or day off-timetable as a language intensive event.  Next week I’ll go through the logistics for running this with more than one class at a time, and of course there’s that second trick to tell you about.

The sequence

  • Pre-teach key vocabulary used in the trick.  If you’re doing a card trick, this will mean the suits, Aces and court cards, how to put them together (e.g., the 7 of diamonds), and depending on the trick, you might need ‘face up / face down’.  Terms like ‘shuffle’, ‘cut’, ‘look at’, etc., can be taught as you go along.  For other tricks, it may just be the props you’re going to use that you need to pre-teach: a coin, a piece of paper, etc.  In all likelihood, it will be vocabulary the class will already be familiar with, but they need to be able to produce it themselves for the presentation to work effectively.  Pre-teaching the suits or court cards can be very straightforward.  You know the old Find the Lady scam you sometimes see on street corners?  One Queen and two other cards are turned face down on the table and mixed up and the spectators have to identify which one is the Queen.  Here, there is no need to do the Find the Lady trick for real (although you can if you know how), but just as a guessing game in pairs and instead of asking which one is the Queen (which would produce the response, ‘the one on the left/right/in the middle’, you need, ‘What’s the card on the left/right/in the middle?’ to get them to produce the vocabulary (suits/court cards) you want them to repeat.  Simple games to guess the suit of a face-down card can be played in pairs briefly to drive this home.  One pack of cards would be enough for six pairs of pupils if you give them about 8 cards each (and you have a class of 30).
  • Perform the trick!  You could, at a push, use a performance from YouTube, but I would recommend against this if it’s the trick the class is going to work on themselves.  It’s much more effective (providing you’ve practised it!) if the trick happens in front of them.  YouTube is excellent for showing a class a performance of a professional magician to non-magicians to set a bit of context in the target language if you don’t usually perform magic yourself.  Later I’ll give some recommendations.  You need to practise the trick so that you can do it without thinking about it and be able to concentrate on what you’re saying.  This is a good test of whether the trick will be suitable for the class to learn – if performing it successfully demands too much concentration on your part (as the teacher), the same will be true of the class, and the language will be the first thing to disappear.  In my presentation at The Language Show last week, I used a video camera connected to a projector so that everyone could see what was happening on the table.  I never use that in class, but then I don’t normally have 250 people watching!  The sort of trick you would normally do for such large numbers wouldn’t be the sort of trick you teach in a classroom for one pupil to perform to another.  My classroom is set out with the tables in horseshoe formation, one smaller horseshoe inside a larger one.  My table is in the middle.  Those who normally sit around the outside horseshoe can come nearer and stand behind those seated around the inner horseshoe and see perfectly well.  Which tricks will you perform?  Beginners’ tricks are by far the best.  If they are performed well and you relax enough as you do them to give yourself the space to talk to those watching, they can be very effective.  If they are more demanding than beginners’ tricks, the chances are the class won’t be able to do them within the limits of one lesson!  The best source of tricks are books rather than YouTube.  The instructions will already be broken down and simplified, which will give you a head start in your planning.  Any decent high street bookshop will have a few books to choose from.  Go for one where they use everyday objects rather than magicians’ equipment and where there is no sleight of hand.  Going to an old-fashioned bookshop is better than getting any old book off the internet as you need to have a good root through it to see if it will be suitable for what you want.  Note to magicians: In choosing which tricks to include/explain in a lesson, I only go for those in the public domain, by which I define as if I can find the same trick in at least 5 books that have been available to the general public and published for at least 20 years, I won’t fall foul of the oath to keep secrets.  Indocilis privata loqui, as The Magic Circle puts it.
  • Teach the language of reaction.  I need the language of reaction at the ready so that the moment the trick reaches its conclusion, I can teach, ‘How did you do that?!’, ‘Do that again!’, ‘I know what you did there!’, ‘That’s amazing!’.  Otherwise, this would be a flashpoint for the class going back into English.
  • The teacher and the pupils perform the presentation together.  At this stage, the class still doesn’t know how the trick is done.  The idea is that pupils go through the motions of the trick (which won’t work yet), so that they know what it is supposed to look like and they have something to hang the language on.  They will need lots of visual support for the language on the screen or on a script sheet.  If you show them how the trick is done before you get to this stage, the language probably won’t stick.  If you hold off for a bit before telling them the secret, you are more likely to get more language out of them.
  • Pupils learn the method.  There are various ways you can go about this.  I prefer to give pupils 4 possible one-sentence explanations and they speculate in pairs on which one is correct.  (They will need, ‘I don’t think it’s the first one / second one, etc.’, ‘It could be the third one’, ‘I’m absolutely certain it’s the fourth one’, ‘It can’t be the first one’, and depending on their level, ‘because he …..’ + their attempt at an explanation).  Why give them this stage?  To give them an incentive for reading the instruction sheet which comes next.  Many reading comprehension exercises we give to pupils are anything but communicative.  They have no reason to read the text apart from because the teacher has told them to.  Yet when do we normally read without a reason?  The reason may be because we enjoy reading (which is reason enough, and according to Krashen, a most effective environment in which to acquire and internalise language, vocabulary, grammar), but I can’t honestly say I’ve seen much enjoyment fostered in many worksheets!  Normally there is a need to get information we actually want.  Again, this isn’t usually the case with the average worksheet.  In a situation like this, though, assuming pupils enjoyed the trick performed and their curiosity has been raised as to how the trick was done, they want to read the instruction sheet to test their hypothesis.  All the more reason not to make the language of the instructions as easy as possible, but pitched at the limitof what you think the pupils can cope with.  You might need two or even three versions of the sheet for the class if you have a wide range of ability there.

    Performing close-up magic at The Ali Bongo Saturday Show, The Magic Circle June 2010

  • The teacher and the class put the method and the presentation together.  Now they know how it’s done, step by very slow step they go through it together with the teacher and then again with the presentation language.  It’s important to keep everyone together or you’ll find yourself sprinting round the classroom correcting what they are doing with the trick.
  • Practise!  Now they need to work on it, both what they are doing and what they are saying.  Again, you need visual support, this time for correcting each other.  When you practise this yourself you will find common faults with doing the trick, e.g., something hidden in your hand is accidentally seen.  You will need to provide the language for this so that in pairs pupils can correct each other: ‘I can see the coin in your hand’, ‘hold your hand like this’, etc.  If you stop the class after they have had the time for a couple of run-throughs, you can take the opportunity to teach this correcting language and then they can carry on.
  • Perform to an audience.  This is the bit which is often missed out when magic is taught in a language lesson.  They learn a trick in the foreign language but then they have no-one to perform it to.  If they perform it to the family at home, why would they use the foreign language for it?  And if everyone in the class has just learned the same trick, what would be the point in performing it to others who also know how it is done?

And the answer to this dilemma?  Find out next week!

Take a look at these magicians, highly respected in the world of magic, performing in French & Spanish:

René Lavand (Spanish)

Juan Tamariz (Spanish)

Bernard Bilis (French)